Spring Loaded Steering Wheels

Back before airbags, it was common for carmakers to have a spring behind the steering wheel. The spring was compressed so that if you tried to take the wheel off without using a steering wheel puller or something to hold the wheel in place, it would shoot off with considerable force (one guy I know got a broken nose because of this). What was the reasoning behind putting the spring there? I can’t imagine that it would be for shock absorbtion, since the spring was compressed. Was it some kind of anti-theft feature? Or was there some other kind of logic behind it?

I think you are confusing 2 things here. Steering wheels are make to give somewhat on impact. A steering wheel puller was needed for wheels that when attached would also press fit itself onto the center ‘spoke’. The puller would allow you to remove this pressed fit and has nothing to do with a spring.

Steering wheels are an interference fit to a splined shaft. Splines look a little like ‘ribs’, and the end of the shaft looks a little like a gear.

I know a guy who broke his nose pulling a steering wheel, but it’s because he was trying to hammer it off by hitting the backside with his hands instead of using a puller. He had no idea why his father was laughing at him until it came off.

While removing the steering wheel of a 67 Toronado (427 4bbl frtwhldr), the spring on the steering column shot the steering wheel off the column with such force that it knocked me halfway into the back seat. Fortunately, it hit me in the chest rather than in the face.

The spring was part of the steering wheel’s telescoping mechanism of the tilt and telescope feature.

I did not have a spring compressor, so when I reassembled the steering wheel, I had to leave out the spring. From then on, the rotational control of the steering wheel remained unchanged, but the steering wheel flopped about a bit.

Steering wheel pullers are made to remove interference-fit wheels, not to keep the wheels from flying off. If the wheel were to fly (or be pulled) off, the puller would just ride along with it. The way you keep control of the wheel’s coming off is to leave the nut threaded about a turn on the end of the shaft. When the wheel is broken loose, you push it in a bit while removing the nut.

Of course as soon as I hit “submit” I think of the GM cars with a circlip, where the steering wheel remover (not technically puller) screws onto the shaft and presses the wheel down away from said clip. That tool would keep the wheel from popping off.

Nope. Having had a steering wheel fly off and nearly bash me in the face (while I was driving, no less), I can safely say that the spring couldn’t have been used to absorb shock, since the spring was compressed, if the spring hadn’t been compressed, it wouldn’t have flown off and caused me to almost crap my pants. The steering wheel pullers I’ve seen all are designed to afix themselves the column in such a way that you can remove the “Jesus nut” without having to worry about the wheel flying off. Oh, and this car was not equipped with tiltwheel or a telescoping mechanism, so the spring couldn’t have been for any of that.

Perhaps it was partially compressed, perhaps this spring is used as a lock washer to make sure that the center (Jesus?) nut has enough friction so as not to loosen.

The ones I’ve used would ‘push’ on the center shaft and would do nothing to stop the wheel from launching itself into orbit (as stated above the puller would just go along with the wheel into orbit).

Perhaps the time period can use ajusting. It seems these death springs were used a long time before airbags, may I suggest “back before unleaded gas”, which should have nothing to do with the steering wheel, but these springs seemed to be discontinued much longer then when airbags came about (I could be wrong, but I have never run into these things).

I don’t know about other makes of cars, but most Fords had a spring mounted on the steering shaft directly under the steering wheel. This gave no spring action to the steering wheel since the wheel was firmly mounted to the shaft coming up from the floor, It was used to apply pressure to a bushing under the wheel that helped keep the steering shaft centered in the steering column. Leaving this spring out would allow the bushing to move up and out of place which would in turn allow the steering shaft (and steering wheel) to wobble loosely around in the tube of the steering column.

This spring did put some tension on the steering wheel, but it wasn’t great. When removing the steering wheel, it would put some pressure on the back of the wheel and would help pop it off the shaft, but it wouldn’t provide enough force to cause damage unless you happened to have your nose in just the right place when it poped off. More than likely, the tension in the tool being used to remove the steering wheel had more energy in it and caused the majority of the reaction.